The Bong Vs Bangali Controversy

I was thinking the other day (yes, I do that sometimes!). What is it about the words Bangali and Bong, that sparks (well, controversy may be too strong a word for it) a debate between the dearest of friends? Is it just two different nomenclatures with the same connotation? Or are these two different entities? If so, then what makes a Bong differ from a Bangali? My tall glass of gholer sharbat in hand, I contemplated long and hard, searching the highs and lows of my mind for that characteristic Bangaliyana, that typical Bongness which would clearly settle the ambivalence over these two puzzling terms once and for all!

Let us take it step by step.

The Bangali and his Bangaliyana

Loves to eat. And by that I mean not just stuff his face with any medu vada, banana chips, vada pav or mirchi bhajiya he can get his hands on!  It has to be well thought out, labor-intesively prepared delectable delicacies. Even while snacking he would prefer mutton kobiraji, fish roll or phoolkopi-r shingara, at least!

Lives to talk. Take away the right to give an ‘opinion’ about everything under the Sun from a Bangali, and you might as well kill the person, literally! Once, I listened to a guy talk about the different kinds of ‘facilities’ available while traveling in and around West Bengal by road/train, for an hour and a half! Oh, he was quite knowledgeable about it, ready with comparative analysis, health-wise dos, and don’ts, as well as interesting anecdotes! For those who still don’t have a clue – he was talking about loos, toilets, lavatories. So there.

Have culture, will celebrate. Get one Bangali, he would nose out good food, cook a great dish or reminisce about one. Put two Bangalis together, they would talk, about all and sundry, and then some! Put three Bangalis together and invariably they would come up with the idea of some kind of sammelan or boithak or gathering, to celebrate their ‘sanskriti’ – kobi sammelan, chitra pradarshini, barshobaron, jalsha… Count the number of jayantis and melas we have in a year!

The legendary Bengali sense of humor. It ranges from saying ‘Dada, please learn to stand on your own feet’ when someone steps on your foot, to the rockbaaj film buff describing the death scene in the latest parallel cinema – “and then the protagonist’s father picked up a fried patol from his plate” (patol tola signifying death), to the latest summer and election jokes doing the rounds – Bangalis know how to laugh and laugh hardest at themselves.

Add to this the idiosyncratic dialectic of the “bitten-by-the-travel-bug” Bangali within the laid-back, “unwilling-to-leave-the-comforts-of-home” Bangali, and you have the somewhat complete picture.

Bangali. The adda-baaj, food-loving, often intellectual, good-humored soul.

Now the Bongness.

A café in a booming bustling city outside West Bengal, two people order for two ‘espressos’. The well-meaning server started to explain that it is just strong black coffee without sugar and milk… the guys politely looked on. Their eyes said what their tongues did not – “Boss, we have uncles back home whose veins overflow with ‘infusion’, along with lungs full of nicotine tar. So talk to the hand”. These guys – bang on Bongs!

A lady of the house in another metro city, wrinkling her pert little nose at all the ‘hoo-hah’ over the grand opening of a Food Mall, which boasts of exotic items such as smoked ham, cooking chocolate, single cream, and tinned asparagus. Earlier, her para cold storage was good enough to fulfill all her needs for making black forest cake, eggs benedict, or glazed ham! This lady – a Bong to the core.

A girl reading a three-column newspaper article about a book store specializing in second-hand books, in yet another tier-1 city, her mind teeming with the images of College Street and Golpark footpath.

A young man gone pubbing in the Pub Capital, waiting for the complimentary plate of peanuts and mixture with his beer, as was usual in his city, utterly puzzled when it never arrives.

A not-so-young guy, listening to his colleagues raving about the vast repertoire of international movies with the UTV World Movies, remembers his college days of attending the special screenings of Fellini, Kurosawa, Godard films, even before the Calcutta International Film Festival started in 1995.

Bong. Essentially Bangali, urban in mindset, a bit of a cerebral snob, the ‘been there, done that’ type.

So, have I made it clear now, who’s Bong and who is Bangali? Or are they not separate at all? Is one the subset of the other – All Bongs are Bangalis, but not all Bangalis are Bongs? I thought I had it finally, cut and dried, ready to be labeled. But now it seems…

Perhaps you could help?